Scripture for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 1.1,17-27 (the demise of Saul); Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43 (healing of the woman with a haemorrhage and the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader).
Last week I saw the action of the woman in the passage from Mark’s gospel described as ‘civil disobedience.’ Certainly, she broke rules – in fact the whole passage is riddled with rules being broken. A woman in her condition would have been permanently ‘unclean’ under Jewish Law, and therefore excluded from the synagogue and most social life. Going into a crowd was about the last thing she should have done – and actually touching someone, as she touched Jesus, would normally have rendered the one she touched ‘unclean’ and subject to purification rituals. But with Jesus, it’s as if water flows uphill, and she became healed, and clean.
Meanwhile Jairus, the synagogue leader (and one of the people responsible for exclusion of the other woman from the synagogue), having himself bent the rules and taken a risk to approach Jesus, had to wait for help for his daughter – which seemed to come too late.
Then Jesus broke more rules – going into a room with a dead person and actually touching the little girl. But again, water flows uphill and the girl is alive and Jesus is definitely not unclean.
Should this encourage us to break rules wilfully and recklessly? Perhaps not. The test is whether God’s will for justice is being thwarted. Whether it be Rosa Parks in the USA in the 1950s, challenging segregation laws, or Emily Wilding Davidson in the early twentieth century protesting for women’s suffrage, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany in the 1940s, or one of many others who saw injustice and challenged it, we ought to recognise that there are occasions when Christianity is called into conflict with power.
Jesus entered a world full of exploited victims, then empowered them through peace to stop being victims. And at times that means persuading the powers that be to recognise injustice.
If we are going to follow Jesus Christ all the way, then our lives will be lived in direct conflict with oppression. Sometimes, our task is to force the powers that be to recognise they are not above the law, or humanity. Especially humanity, should the law, as Dogberry says in Much Ado About Nothing, be an ass. Which the segregation laws in the southern USA were. Which the law the excluded women from voting was.
The world will not stand still. It never has and it never will. The very orbit of our plant does not remain exactly constant, and our lives and actions are continually having an effect upon how life exists and changes.
Our understanding of injustice has to develop, grow and evolve. Our world does not stand still. If the relationship that we have with God is not capable of evolution then what happens is that we end up being stuck. God has created us to evolve and change. That’s what life is. From the moment we are born, we are changing, adapting, evolving – and dying, by the way – as our bodies adapt to the environment in which we find ourselves living.
The odd and somewhat ironic thing is that we seem to resist change – in many ways, it makes us uncomfortable, even though our God-given bodies can’t stop changing. If we are to believe that we are wonderfully created in the image of God, then doesn’t that suggest that we are meant to be creatures of adaptation, evolution and change?
We can’t cling to a past that does not exist any more. How can we fulfil God’s will for the world to become a better place if we’re not willing to accept change – actually to be agents of change? How can we hope for healing in the world if we’re not willing to reach out – to touch, and be touched by, those needing healing – in fact, to acknowledge the places where we ourselves need healing – and take the risk of reaching out to seek it – even if it means being seen to do the “wrong thing?”
Rather than laughing at the improbability of healing a dead girl, Jesus told his followers and Jairus: ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ So, for us, we should not laugh, or retreat in fear, at the prospect of injustice being overturned, or healing happening in our world. Rather, Jesus calls us to evaluate how we live and what we do in the light of God’s love for us, love that we are supposed to refract into our world – the one we occupy now, not some misremembered and unattainable past – adapting and evolving in faith, with grace.